Despite the latest changes in Canada’s Federal Skilled Worker Program (FSWP) selection criteria, some Chinese immigrants choose to return to school and obtain a Canadian degree in the hopes of making them more attractive employees rather than have their foreign credentials recognized.
Finding suitable employment is a challenge many Chinese immigrants face when coming to Canada, including Victor, who has bachelor’s and master’s degrees from China and is now working towards a doctoral degree in engineering at the University of British Columbia. I met him one rainy afternoon in Vancouver and, over a cup of tea, we spoke about job prospects after graduation and his dream of becoming a Canadian citizen.
“I chose to pursue a Ph.D. in Canada for two reasons: I got a job through the university as a research assistant and it was easier to make friends in school and adapt to the new culture that way,” he said. “When you are in school, you are accepted by Canadians. However, I am aware that a doctoral degree is not going to help me find a job faster when I graduate.”
Then why go back to school and not have his foreign credentials recognized, I asked. Because, Victor said, it was easier and faster to obtain a student visa and move to Canada as an international student than apply to become a permanent resident through the FSWP. Laura, a Chinese immigrant who recently finished a Master of Arts in Victoria, B.C., agreed.
“I came to Canada as an international student but I wasn’t really interested in getting a Canadian degree. I just saw it as a way to transition to permanent residency,” she said.
Under the FSWP, Canada selects its immigrants based on a point system that came into effect in 2002 and was changed in May 2013. Prospective applicants must submit an Educational Credential Assessment (ECA), a process that determines if the foreign educational credential is authentic and equivalent to a completed credential in Canada. The point system places a strong emphasis on human capital, language skills, and educational credentials. Even before the immigration regulations of 2002 were adopted, there had been a strong emphasis on increasing the proportion of economic immigrants admitted annually. For example, throughout the late 1990s, economic class immigrants made up over half of all immigrants admitted, whereas in the mid-1980s they accounted for only 36 per cent of the total annual immigration.
Reasons for post-migration education
Human capital theory is built on the assumption that investment in education leads to individual success in the labour market, an assumption that often fails in the case of recent immigrants who come to Canada with foreign credentials and find that their qualifications are not enough to find full time employment in their field. As Victor pointed out, “the learning and work experience acquired abroad are often treated with suspicion and as inferior. So what’s the point of wasting time and money to have your credentials recognized?”
Formal education courses also provide new immigrants with locally relevant skills, introduces them to important social networks, and, eventually, helps them obtain better jobs: “You may have your credentials officially recognized in Canada but that doesn’t mean that private employers recognize foreign education and are willing to offer you a job. So recent immigrants are forced to either take work for which they feel overqualified or return to school,” he said.
There are also Chinese immigrants who pursue post-secondary education in Canada because Canadian credentials are recognized in China. “If I ever decide to return to China, a degree from a Canadian school is considered more valuable by Chinese employers than a degree obtained from Australia or the U.K.,” Laura said. “Competition is tough in China, there are so many fresh university graduates every year … 90 per cent of young people have an undergraduate degree and 80 per cent have a graduate degree. Canadian education is seen favourably by Chinese employers and it makes you stand out when you are looking for a job in China.”
Disparities between Chinese and Canadian systems
Differences in teaching and learning styles contribute to new immigrants’ difficulties with schooling, ultimately leading to adaptation-related problems..
“In China, it’s hard to get accepted into a university but it’s easy to finish. It’s different from here. In Canada, you can easily get accepted into a program, but it’s very difficult to pass the exams and graduate,” said a new immigrant who chose to remain anonymous.
Others remarked that in China, the teaching content is theoretically emphasized, while in Canada, teaching is more flexible and focuses on the students’ practical abilities, “A good education is a must. Unlike Canada, education in China is all about getting a degree, the knowledge is not important,” said another interviewee. According to some recent immigrants, the Chinese classroom atmosphere is rigid and passive compared to the Canadian classroom environment that is more relaxed and active. “Students here can joke with their teachers and they can eat and drink in class. That is not possible in China,” said one immigrant while another Chinese immigrant added that “the relationship between students and teachers in Canada is more equal, students can say or ask anything they want to. In China, it is like between the superior and the inferior, you can’t ask questions or give feedback.”
While Canada has an immigration policy that attracts well-educated immigrants, there’s no comprehensive plan in place to help these recent immigrants overcome the barriers they face finding employment. Governmental and educational institutions need to understand recent immigrants’ perceptions, interpretations, and educational experiences in order to improve their policies and help immigrants become successful Canadian citizens.